Pantheism and Science


One of the world’s first scholars of pantheism, an amazing woman, Constance Plumptre, wrote this in 1878:

“Pantheism has one inestimable advantage over all other religions, however sublime they may be: it is never in antagonism to science. As much as science enlarges its boundaries, so much exactly does Pantheism increase its loftiness.”

Up and down lists of famous pantheists are scientists. One reason for this may be that pantheism and science make a similar assumption – that things are connected. The deeper reason may be the love of the knowledge that things are connected. Scientists passionately search for connections and ways to unify theories. For Albert Einstein, this was similar to a religious experience:

“Scientific research can reduce superstition by encouraging people to think and view things in terms of cause and effect. Certain it is that a conviction, akin to religious feeling, of the rationality and intelligibility of the world lies behind all scientific work of a higher order.”

Philosophers like Baruch Spinoza believed the pursuit of knowledge to be a divine experience, a way to know God. Einstein agrees,

“This firm belief, a belief bound up with a deep feeling, in a superior mind that reveals itself in the world of experience, represents my conception of God. In common parlance this may be described as “pantheistic” (Spinoza).”

Not all notable pantheists have been scientists, or even science literate. But just about all have had a profound appreciation for what science attempts to do. Alan Watts puts it this way,

“The true splendor of science is not so much that it names and classifies, records and predicts, but that it observes and desires to know the facts, whatever they may turn out to be.”

Alan Watts, like many pantheistic poets and philosophers, also emphasizes our humility in the face of scientific discovery. Watts continues,

“The greater the scientist, the more he is impressed with his ignorance of reality… What he does not know seems to increase in geometric progression to what he knows. Steadily he approaches the point where what is unknown is not a mere blank space in a web of words but a window in the mind, a window whose name is not ignorance but wonder.”

Einstein seems to completely agree,

“The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations.”

Nevertheless, even in the 17th century, philosopher Spinoza, like so many pantheists who identify God with the natural world, found himself unimpressed with supernatural speculations,

“As regards miracles, I am of opinion that the revelation of God can only be established by the wisdom of the doctrine, not by miracles, or in other words by ignorance.”

It’s a common theme among pantheists – a love of knowledge and science, but not without an awareness of our profound ignorance. Or as Alan Watts put it, “a window whose name is not ignorance but wonder.”

Yet, it’s no real wonder that the most well known martyr for pantheism, the philosopher Giordano Bruno – a man murdered for trying to tell people that their idea of God was too small – is also glorified as, “the martyr of science.”


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